Since 2007 when he was appointed Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), Prof. Muhammed Ibn Junaid’s dream has been for the Colleges to produce more knowledgeable teachers that could effectively teach children at the different levels of basic education, in addition to those in the Junior Secondary Schools.
It was, indeed, not an easy task. But with the support of his management team, he persevered and his efforts are now yielding fruits. As he prepares to leave office, Junaid shares his success story with ROTIMI LAWRENCE OYEKANMI in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
Sir, it’s been a long way from 2007 you were first appointed, and by March ending, you will be leaving office. How would you describe your eventful journey?
The journey has been very challenging because we wanted to introduce change and you know change is usually greeted with a lot of resistance. At the time I assumed office, there were, already, antecedents in the educational development of this country, which called for change. And one of them was the rise in the minimum teaching qualification, which was a decision taken in 2003 by the National Council on Education, to abrogate Teachers’ Grade II certificate, and to raise the minimum teaching qualification in the country to the Nigerian Certificate in Education (NCE).
The NCE was conceived as a training programme for teachers for the junior secondary education level. So, it didn’t have any significance for primary education, because the Grade II programme was there to take care of primary education.
Now, along with this decision came additional responsibilities for the NCE teacher, who is now expected to go and teach at the primary level. Remember, in 1999, the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme was introduced, but the Act for establishing UBE was enacted in 2004, a year after the decision to raise the minimum teaching qualification to NCE.
So, 2004 brought about the UBE Act, which also recognizes four levels of basic education: Early Childhood and Care Education (ECCE), Primary, Junior Secondary, then Adult and Non Formal. The Act requires that teachers be produced for all these levels of education and it is the Colleges of Education that are charged with the responsibility of producing teachers for basic education.
The UBE Law, therefore, requires a change in the programme for teacher education, so that it is no longer focused on junior secondary. It is now comprehensive enough to cover early childhood, primary education and adult/ non formal.
Following 2004 UBE Act, the NERDC (Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council) had to review the basic education curriculum to include the nine-year period for basic education. A new curriculum was introduced in 2007 by the NERDC, meanwhile, at the NCCE, the old NCE programme, which was based on junior secondary education, was still in practice, which means there was a disconnect between the teacher education curriculum and the basic education curriculum for which teachers are produced by the Colleges of Education to deliver at the basic education level.
So, when I assumed office in 2007, I came from the background of the reform, which started in the Federal Ministry of Education (FEM) in 2006. I was aware of all these developments and at the time I assumed office, the NCCE had completed its five-year review of the minimum standards, which it did in isolation of all the other developments that were going on and they were about to go to press to publish the 4th edition of the NCE minimum standards. But I said look, you can’t do that, unless you establish that there is now a good connection between teacher education curriculum and the current developments in education, that is, the new UBE law, the new curriculum of basic education and the rise in the minimum teaching qualification, which brought about added responsibilities for the NCE teachers.
There was a bit of resistance here, because the Academic Programmes Department argued that it had taken care of everything, simply because in 2005, there was a commissioned report by NCCE, UBEC (Universal Basic Education Commission) NTI (National Teachers’ Institute) and TRCN (Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria) to study the current ongoing teacher education programme at college and university level, in the light of the UBE Law that came into existence in 2004. There was a recommendation from that study, that the primary education study curriculum needed to be reviewed in light of the current development, and because they had done it, they thought it was enough, but I said no. Let us go back to the field. Let us invite all the stakeholders in education. Let us put the question across. What kind of teachers do we need for the basic education that we have?
We had a stakeholders’ meeting in Jos, where we brainstormed on the kind of teachers that we require for the basic education programme. There were two decisions taken there. Some were of the view that the current NCE programme was okay to service the basic education programme. Others were of the view that, in the light of the new basic education law, there was need for a change in the production of the kind of teachers that are required by basic education. It was a meeting of experts in education and we decided we would take those decisions to a larger education stakeholders’ meeting, which we held in Akwanga in 2007.
At Akwanga, we invited Commissioners for Education, Chairmen of SUBEBs (State Universal Basic Education Boards), teachers’ unions and all the relevant stakeholders in teacher education and we put across the two views. They were discussed and again, two decisions were taken at that particular stakeholders meeting. One was that, the NCE curriculum at the time was not adequate and there was need to harmonise it with the new basic education curriculum that was introduced. Two, in addition to the harmonization, which was a needed topical measure, there was also need for the restructuring of the teacher education programme, to reflect the levels of education identified in the basic education programme – early childhood, primary, secondary and adult and non-formal; and we also added special education to make them five. We said the Colleges of Education needed to be refocused in the production of teachers for these five levels of basic education.
Following on from there, we harmonized the existing NCE curriculum and it became the 4th edition and we distributed it to the Colleges for implementation. The purpose of that was to do an adjustment of the disconnect between teacher education and basic education curriculum. We completed that, but the major restructuring started in 2008 as we needed to now refocus Colleges of Education to address the teacher needs at the basic education level, so that the training of teachers is no longer subject based. You don’t need to go and study just two subject-combinations, like Physics/Chemistry or English/History, which are based on the curriculum of secondary education. What you need, in addition to content knowledge, is pedagogy. You need to specialize in teaching at a particular level of education.
If you go to the developed countries, you find teachers at various levels of education and it is possible to even find a teacher at the primary school level with a PhD, but his specialization, throughout his training, is for that level of education. So, you can specialize in early childhood education and you can go ahead and further your education up to the Ph.D level; you can even become a professor in that area, but still a specialized teacher for early childhood education level.
The new programmes introduced in the new curriculum are based on level-specific NCE curriculum and we are hoping that with this new curriculum, which we started rolling out this year, Colleges would be training teachers on level-specific programmes, such as early childhood and care, primary education, junior secondary, special education, adult and non-formal, along with the old two-subject combination, which are still the required specialization for teaching at the senior secondary school level. This sums up the reforms for teacher education.
But in order for these reforms to take firm root in Colleges of Education, we also revisited our quality assurance instrument and system, and we came up with a new Tool Kit for quality assurance in the Colleges of Education. It would be used for the monitoring of the implementation of the NCE minimum standards and also for all other things that revolve around quality in teaching and learning in the Colleges of Education.
For the previous accreditation programme, what we used to do was on a five-year exercise. So, every five years, we go out and accredit the institutions and their programmes and then come up with full accreditation, denied accreditation or interim accreditation. Of course, with interim accreditation, that institution/programme would be revisited in two years’ time.
Those with denied accreditation, their programmes would be closed down until improvements are made, and then, Colleges are visited later to see if those improvements have been made before you can now resuscitate any programme that had been closed down.
But the new Quality Assurance Tool Kit encourages Colleges to do quality assurance by themselves. They don’t have to wait until external accreditors come from the NCCE every five years or every two or three years. They can do it by themselves, on their own system, on their own programmes and they can now make amends where they observe weaknesses and they can also consolidate on their strength before the external accreditors come in.
We encourage them to do it and we have made it mandatory that, before we go out on external accreditation to any institution, that institution must have conducted its own internal self assessment and submitted its report to us. And by the time we come back, we would have two reports: the internal assessment report and the external. It is the aggregate of the two that would determine the final score of the college’s programmes.
You once spoke on plans by the NCCE to embark on ranking of the colleges. Did the commission eventually do it?
We have not yet done that because we have only started this year to roll out the new curriculum and we are working with the Colleges. We have changed our tactics now. We will no longer fold our arms after disseminating the new curriculum, expect Colleges to implement it on their own, wait for a year or two before we go and check. This time, we are working with the Colleges to implement the new curriculum, so that we can address the issue together as we implement.
We are lucky to have what is called Teacher Development Programme (TDP), to the tune of 36 million pounds, provided by the DFID to support the rollout of the new teacher education reform of the NCCE. We have started work with six states. Right now, we are working in three out of the six states and that is Katsina, Jigawa and Zamfara states. The next three would be Kano, Kaduna and Niger. There are the six states under the TDP supported by the DFID.
Currently, there is a training going on in Kano. Kano is a TDP state but it is not yet on the programme, However, because of the zeal that the Colleges have about the new reform, they are now inviting NCCE to come and roll out the curriculum with them, even though they are not yet under the grip of TDP and we have extended the roll out. We are not limiting it to the six states.
The NCCE on its own is working with the Colleges outside the TDP programme and rolling out the curriculum. The rollout is about giving orientation to Colleges of Education lecturers about the new minimum standards and new quality assurance system.
With regard to the quest for the new minimum standards, we are working with the college staff to make them understand the new structure, methodology and contents of the new curriculum. It is only by understanding these three aspects of the new curriculum, that college lecturers would be able to implement them effectively.
So, our style has changed. We are now working with the Colleges, implementing the programmes for the new minimum standards together. If there are problems, we can address them.
For instance, one of the major challenges we face in bringing about these reforms, especially refocusing the Colleges on the five new areas, was that some college lecturers felt that they were going to lose their jobs, because the NCE they did and the training they had was on the two-subject combination.
Some of them are teaching Chemistry/Physics. There are even Colleges where Political Science is being taught and you wonder what someone with NCE Political Science would be doing in a basic education school, or what he or she would even teach.
But we were able to allay their fears and we assured them that nobody was going to lose his or her job because of the new curriculum. Rather, we are refocusing Colleges to address the basic teacher needs in the basic education sector, and we still need teachers with the two subject combination because we still have senior secondary where physics, chemistry, history and the rest of them are taught.
So, doing a two-subject combination in NCE does not mean you have no relevance in the educational system. You can proceed to the university to do a Bachelor of Education programme in those two subjects, come back and teach effectively in the secondary school.
What we are saying is that, if all NCE programmes are two-subject combinations, then the products of those NCE programmes would not be relevant for teaching at the basic education level because Chemistry, Physics are not taught in basic education and Biology is also not taught. So, what would they be teaching and how effective would they be?
Colleges of Education were established to produce teachers for the basic education non-degree sector and the Faculties of Education that produce graduate teachers are producing teachers for the senior secondary level. Previously, NCE was very effective; the products were effective in delivering the curriculum because they were teaching at the junior secondary school level. But with the rise in the minimum teaching qualification, they can no longer be effective in the basic education with the two-subject combination. This has been the essence of the reform.
There have been calls for the conversion of some Polytechnics to Universities. How has the NCCE responded to calls for the conversion of some Colleges of Education to Universities of Education?
Initially, the purpose of the reform was to turn Colleges of Education into a one stop institution for the training of teachers, from the lowest qualification to the highest. But to be able to do that, you have to specialize in a given area and therefore, Colleges need to focus themselves on the production of teachers for a particular sector of the education system. And we thought that, with the three-year NCE, you can go ahead and do a two-year Bachelor of Education in, say, early childhood, primary education, junior secondary, adult and non-formal or in special education.
With these specifics, Colleges of Education can turn themselves into a one stop institution for teacher professional development. So you can step in, do your NCE, your B.Ed and possibly in the future, do your M. Ed or Ph.D in the same institution. Then you can now take away the professional development of teachers from the universities, which can now address the research aspect in teacher education.
What now happened to that plan?
It didn’t work out because at the beginning, people were confused about our intention. They didn’t understand the vision very well until now. Many of Colleges have now understood the vision and the mission of the reform and are agitating to becoming Universities of Education. Many of them have literarily turned their Colleges or campuses into campuses of affiliate universities. They are running degree programmes of Faculties of Education of established universities.
But those degree programmes, if you look at them, they don’t really have much relevance to the mandate of the Colleges of Education. If they were degree programmes say in early childhood care and education or primary education, adult and non formal, special education, yes, they would be relevant for teaching at the basic education level. But they are not and that is the problem.
Did you carry out any reform at the commission itself?
Yes we did. We had to start from here and we brought in a lot of capacity building for our staff at the commission, particularly in the two core departments: Academic Programmes and Planning, Research and Statistics.
Currently, we have 12 staff members that have been certified through ESSPIN, a firm from the United Kingdom whose business is quality assurance and we developed our quality assurance Tool Kit with their technical expertise. The certification is equivalent to what they give in Britain to people, who can now go and conduct quality assurance in the tertiary institutions.
Do you have applications from people who want to establish private Colleges of Education?
Oh, quite a number. In fact, the number of private Colleges of Education has now exceeded that of federal by far, almost double. Over 40 private Colleges of Education.
What major challenge affects all the Colleges?
The problems are common, but the basic challenge across the colleges is that of funding.
Even to do accreditation, a College would require a lot of funds to put in what it requires, especially under the old programme, when Colleges wait for five years to be visited. But if you are doing it year in, year out, you would be able to confront your proprietor and say, look, we lack this and that; we require this, we require that and we demand for this, we demand for that.
Most colleges, particularly those owned by states, get funding only on the eve of accreditation. That is when they run to the government and that is when government is very prompt in giving them funds to put in the few things that are required for the College to get at least interim accreditation and not denied accreditation. That is why, anytime you write to a College and say, you are due and we are coming for accreditation, they would now write you back and say please give us some more time, we need to go and see our government.
In terms of qualified academic staff, how are the Colleges fairing?
Some of the older Colleges have a good crop of academic staff of high ranking. If you go to Adeyemi College of Education, Alvan Ikoku College of Education, you will see so many people with Ph.D and numerous people with MSc and so on. But there are other Colleges that have very young lecturers, where the quality is very low in terms of qualification. But by and large, with the assistance Colleges now get from Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), many of them are sending their staff for postgraduate training.
Are more students applying to the Colleges now through JAMB?
During the last policy meeting, and from JAMB’s (Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board’s) records, those who are aspiring to get admission into Colleges of Education are more than those applying to the Polytechnics. It was a welcome surprise for us because previously, we were at the bottom all the time.
Have you had cause to sanction any particular College of Education for any wrongdoing?
Yes. We have had cause to close down a number of illegal Colleges of Education in Benue state. We worked in collaboration with the state’s Ministry of Education. We conducted a verification exercise and we discovered that some of them shouldn’t be in existence at all and we closed them down.
Have you received petitions from any of the unions in the Colleges of Education, asking you to intervene in their disputes with their respective authorities?
Yes, quite a number. Akoka, in particular is still current. We have had to intervene in a number of institutions to broker peace between the college management and the college union, In Pankishi, we brokered peace, in Katsina, the same thing. On the Akoka issue, we had a stakeholders meeting here recently with the college union, the management and the national union representatives. So we broker peace from time to time in a number of colleges.
Looking back to 2007 when you came in, are you satisfied with the level of implementation of your blueprint?
I am quite satisfied and my major satisfaction is that, at the end of it all, now that I am about to leave, there is already a solid programme of the rollout of the reform that I have championed from 2007 to date.
It would have been a different thing if I were to leave and nothing was there to sustain the reform. So, with this support from the DFID, at least in the six states that they are working, the reform would continue effectively in strengthening the Colleges in introducing the new programmes and getting lecturers orientated about it.
Is the commission’s funding level satisfactory?
I think the trend has been declining from 2008, which was our best year so far. But since then, the funding level has been going down. And from interaction with people, even at the National Assembly, this year is even going to be worse than the previous years.
I am seriously worried about the effects. Last year, we managed to get only 37 per cent of our total capital budget and in the previous year, it was about 47 per cent. But we appreciate the hard times that we are in.
How do you relax?
Well, in my free time, I read. I read outside my specialization and I used to play squash but I don’t anymore, and that was because the time was not there. But now that I am finishing and maybe going back to my normal life, I will have more time to myself and engage in squash again.
But what I do as exercise is, from time to time, I walk some distance since I am not registered in any gym. I leave here very late. Ideally, I should leave here, go to a gym, do some workouts and then go home. But it has been very difficult. I have been to a number of gyms, collected their forms but didn’t have time to go back. I keep postponing it and it’s been eight years now.
What’s next for you sir?
I am going back to the university system to teach. I am a trained teacher by profession.
Finally, what kind of NCCE would you like to see in the next 10 years?
In the next 10 years, I would like to see this commission metamorphosing into a National Commission for Teacher Education, not for Colleges of Education, so that the whole business about teacher education would be regulated by this commission.
The Colleges of Education would remain, but they would be rendering a whole spectrum of degrees in teacher education, basically teacher education, not education in general, which is what Faculties of Education do.
If you go to the Faculty of Education after your Bachelor of Education degree, you go and do your master’s either in Sociology of Education or Psychology of Education or Philosophy of Education, and those courses don’t have direct bearing on the curriculum that you are going to deliver, when you go back to the secondary school or the basic education school.
Also, some of the researches may be esoteric. They may not be action research that you can plough back to the improvement of the system in the secondary or basic education school where they are teaching. If this reform becomes consolidated and institutionalized, Colleges of Education would become Centres of Excellence for teacher quality and professional development.